Aug 03

They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon blues.

August 3 - climb-stack-of-paper An erstwhile client of ours recently decided to put the entire account up for review.

As a 'courtesy,' they invited us to participate in the pitch.

Wary of not re-engaging with what had been a tenuous, high maintenance relationship at best, I asked our point person to carefully qualify the opportunity. She did so, and reported back that the prospect was 'limiting' the field and would duly note our track record in their evaluation.

Since the budget was respectable, the times were tough and the client sported a recognizable brand name, I gave a reluctant go-ahead. 

Later that very same week, though, O'Dwyer's ran a front page story indicating the prospect was issuing an RFP. Oh boy. 'Danger Will Robinson!!!!!' When O'Dwyer's runs a front page story announcing an RFP, one can safely go to the bank assuming that everyone and their brother will be pitching the account.

Our point person promised to check with the prospect. After doing so, she insisted we still had a great chance and should proceed. So, times being what they were, we did. And, we heard nothing for the longest time. Complete radio silence from the prized prospect.

Then last week, rising like some proverbial Phoenix, the contact resurfaced. We received a long note thanking us for our 'excellent' submission, but letting us know that, sadly, we hadn't made the final round.

To cushion our loss, though, the prospect was nice enough to let us know he'd received some 55, count 'em 55, proposals. Let me repeat that number: 55.

How'd you like to cozy up to 55 public relations proposals over a bottle of chardonnay, some Barry White love songs and a roaring fire? I can think of more romantic weekend escapes.

To further cushion our loss, the prospect really opened up in his note and told us we had made it to the 'semifinal round of 10' agencies. Oh boy! The semifinal round of 10? What are the odds of that? Actually, I guess they'd be one in five. Nonetheless, what an honor! 

And, where would the semifinals be held? Greensboro Coliseum? The Staples Center in LA? MSG itself? And, who else made the semis? Gonzaga? Syracuse? Wake Forest? What a joke.

As Steely Dan wrote, 'They got a name for the winners in the world. I want a name when I lose. They call Alabama the Crimson Tide. Call me Deacon Blues.'

After this experience, you can also call me Deacon Done. I am so done with not trusting my gut and avoiding these pointless cattle calls.

Jul 06

A new digital divide

July 6 - customer service Most large organizations today are living a lie. On the one hand, their marketing communications staffs are rushing pell-mell into the blogosphere to learn the rules of social media and how best to 'engage' with customers and prospective customers.

Simultaneously, though, these very same organizations are pushing their customer service departments to 'disengage' with customers as quickly as possible. Customer service is a quantity game, so the more customers that can be handled in the shortest period of time leads to the greatest profits.

According to Emily Yellen's 'Your call is (not) important to us,' the approximate cost of offering a live American-based customer service agent averages somewhere around $7.50 per phone call. Outsourcing calls to live agents in another country brings the average cost down to about $2.35 per call. Having customers take care of problems themselves, through an automated response phone system, averages around 32 cents per call, or contact. Guess which option more and more companies are choosing?

Is it any wonder why American business is so dysfunctional? The organization is in a constant state of civil war. The answer may seem obvious: an enlightened CEO should simply mandate that marketing and customer service huddle up and find a win-win solution. Sadly, solutions take time (and lots of money). And, with the change of pace measured in nanoseconds and the economy continuing to slide, the average CEO, CMO and head of customer service instead adopt a 'Let's make do with what we have' mentality.

Ah, but the consumer is king and, if we rant and rave loud enough, or, better yet, buy a competitor's product, corporations will have no choice but to close their digital divide.

Until then, please press 'one' for a service disruption, 'two' for a service disruption of one hour or more, 'three' to ask about our new service offerings, or 'four' for recommended methods of committing suicide when caught in voicemail hell.

Jun 25

I wish I’d said that

Legendary Ad Man Bill Bernbach was many things to many people, according to Doris Willens, author of 'Nobody's Perfect: Bill Bernbach and the Golden Age of Advertising.'

June 25 - On the negative side of the ledger, Bernbach was notorious for claiming ownership of his employees' creative ideas. He also enabled political factions to fester within his firm, Doyle Dane Bernbach. Under his tutelage, DDB became shark-infested workplace. He also encouraged what became known as DDB's 'asshole' culture. Everyone smiled at one another in internal agency meetings, but would routinely call one another assholes behind the scenes. Nice, no?

But Bernbach was also advertising's ultimate creative genius and, along with David Ogilvy, responsible for fostering advertising's golden age in the 1960s (beautifully recreated by the AMC series, Mad Men, btw).

Bernbach was absolutely fearless with clients and prospects. He'd fire the former if they meddled with his creative campaigns. And, he'd tell important clients and prospects exactly what he thought of them and their ideas. To wit: 'A VP (with Mobil Oil) was speaking rather proudly about their newly-proposed logo design commemorating the company's 100th birthday. (The client) said with starry-eyed pride, 'Just look at that. It will be displayed on gas stations all over America. Just look at that red O. Right in the center, it will say 1866-1966. Isn't that wonderful. Do you know what that means?'

The room grew silent. Bernbach nodded and said, 'IT MEANS YOU JUST DIED!" Priceless.

His many faults aside, the advertising and PR agency worlds would be better places if we had senior executives who, like Bernbach, weren't afraid to speak the truth.

Jun 24

It’s time to stand-up for the power of comedy

Peppercommers Brendan Mullin and Doug Feingold made their stand-up comedy debuts this past Thursday night at the New York Comedy Club.

June 24 - Brendan Mullin

This alone would warrant a blog since it takes some serious intestinal fortitude to perform stand-up. But, in so doing, Brendan and Doug were also completing the third part of our most unique management training program.

You see, we include stand-up comedy training as part of our Peppercom State management development program. We contract with Clayton Fletcher, a professional comedian, and train each and every level of our organization.

In addition to learning the four distinct types of comedy, our employees are given tips on how to better project their voice, 'read' the non-verbals of an audience and grasp the nuances of pacing and timing. After each 'performs' five minutes of original material in front of their peers, our employees later sit down with our strategy consultant who reviews a videotape of their stand-up to point out areas of improvement.

Our various comedy workshops have been terrific for the individuals involved and absolutely awesome for overall team building and morale enhancement.

Brendan and Doug took the final steps last week by performing live in front of at least 80 people.

Other agencies may be a little stronger in speechwriting or CSR. And The Holmes Report may have named a larger firm for having the best workplace in the industry. But, no one, and I mean, no one, better understands the strategic, competitive advantages of comedy than little, old Peppercom.

Stand-up comedy training isn't right for every organization. In fact, I can think of a few PR firms whose owners would never, ever buy into anything so 'radical' as stand-up comedy training. But, it works for us. And, while The Holmes Report may ignore the trend, Ad Age certainly hasn't (Download AdAge Comedy Article). 

We live in an era in which nearly every kind of business finds itself unable to afford pay increases or bonuses. By partnering with a stand-up comedian like Clayton, however, we've paid a little, but gained a lot. It's high time other business leaders stand up and take note of comedy's strategic role in business.

Did you miss the live show? Download Brendan Mullin's Stand Up Video.

Jun 17

It’s Time to Reinvent the Cold Call

Guest Post by Melissa Vigue

June 17 I was recently reminded of the Jerry Seinfeld method of dealing with unsolicited sales calls – ask for their number to call them back – when a prospective vendor called my cell phone after hours on a Friday night. While I did not resort to that – and was afraid the vendor might oblige – this did spark heated discussion at the agency and we did a bit of research.

According to the National Sales Executive Association, 80 percent of sales occur between the fifth through 12th contact.  So it’s no wonder that as the AOR for a number of Fortune 500 clients, we receive an inordinate number of cold calls and emails each week from newswire, database, monitoring, and tchotchkes vendors, among others. Yet being on the receiving end of these calls has made us wonder… is there a better way?   

The issue at hand is that many of these are not targeted directly to our or our client’s needs.  Many are very aggressive, and in some recent cases, contain errors in the communication, such as the names of other agencies they have sent the same email to.  Here are just a few recent examples of how these types of communications alienate and infuriate the very account managers companies are trying to sell to.

  • One contact calls the same two people (who sit next to each other!) each week on the same day at the same time with the same pitch – and gets the same result. “Thanks, we’re all set.”  It is important to note that most of us have been receiving calls from this contact for nearly 10 years. A most recent gaffe involved referencing a past project that happened to be a fiasco and almost resulted in litigation. Does anyone wonder why we don’t engage in his pitch?
  • A production company specializing in video news releases, satellite media tours, etc. was recently asked to no longer contact our staff. Why?  Because in addition to making broad assumptions about shrinking budgets, he was calling every Friday from different phone numbers to lure unsuspecting account people into picking up the phone.
  • A recent email from another distribution outfit opened with, “Pardon me for being so direct…” Need I say more?

Is this really how these vendors want to be perceived? In order to succeed on behalf of their clients, agencies need partners, not vendors. We get it, we really do. Targeting potential clients for new business and pitching a story to an editor requires that initial call too.  Here are a few things we try to consider before a pitch, cold call, follow-up call, etc.:

  • Be courteous and respectful of the recipients’ time. Ask if it’s a good time before launching into a pitch.
  • If they say “No, thanks. We’ll call you if a need arises,” they probably don’t have a current need. But if you respect it, they will really call if the need arises!
  • Do the research first.  Learn about the company and person you are calling, and think about how you can add value.
  • Be a resource and be able to offer insight into the industry landscape and trends.
  • Uncover the pain. What unmet need does your prospect have?
  • Bring some ideas to the table (or at least offer to try), not just “We provide XYZ.”

Finally, in a slumping economy – or for that matter any economy – we all need each other.  It is crucial that we forge win-win relationships and work together to provide solutions; otherwise you might be on call 112 before you realize it’s just not working.

Jun 16

The long lost art of the handwritten note

June 16 - penpal1-main_Full Maybe it's a generational thing, but I really appreciate the time and effort that goes into sending a handwritten note by snail mail.

Having just returned from the most excellent PRSA Counselors Academy spring conference, I was greeted by no fewer than three (count 'em, three) handwritten notes.

I'll bet I don't receive three handwritten notes in a quarter, so opening three in a day was, well, a trifecta of sorts.

All three came from fellow counselors: Eric and Shanny Morgenstern of Kansas City, Sydney Ayers of Golden, Colorado, and Dana Hughens of Raleigh. All three were short, sweet and to the point. But, the words and thoughts meant so much more to me precisely because they were written on paper.

Handwritten notes tell me a great deal about a person. I already knew Eric, Shanny and Syd were great people. But, I'd just met Dana.

How cool is it that Dana decided to use a handwritten note to follow-up to our brief meeting in Palm Springs? And, taking Dana's decision one step further, how smart is it to write a letter to totally distinguish oneself from the competition? For example, Ed 'Measuring Up' Moed just lamented about the poor interviewing skills he'd seen from three recent jobseekers. I'm guessing here, but I'll bet not one of the applicants followed up their Ed meeting with a handwritten thank you. It's subtle. But, it's huge.

Eric, Shanny, Syd and Dana aren't looking for jobs. They're just friends who took the time and effort to tell me they cared. And, in today's information overloaded world in which we live, that's huge. Thanks guys! I owe you a handwritten response.

May 07

The B-school brain drain game

BusinessWeek reports that India’s best and brightest business school students are no longer flocking toBusiness
the Kellogg’s, Wharton’s and Darden’s. Why? Because India’s top b-school’s have at least caught up with, if not surpassed, our creme de la creme. Why should India’s best minds relocate to Philadelphia when they can stay in New Delhi?

To add further insult to injury, America’s top B-school recruiters such as BCG and McKinsey, are shelling out massive bucks to newly-minted Indian MBAs (how does a starting salary of $360k sound to you?).

I’m not surprised Indians are staying home. Having represented quite a few business schools over the years, I’ve always been struck by the internecine warfare and naval-gazing that abounds on our top campuses.

I’ve witnessed faculty turf wars that make Antietam look like a skirmish in comparison. I’ve heard corporate recruiters bemoan the lack of real-world experience, communications and team skills demonstrated by recent US b-school grads. And, I’ve listened to faculty, administrators and management spend hour after hour debating tactical, incremental curricula change.

I’m hoping Duke, UCLA and Tuck don’t emulate Detroit and become the GM, Ford and Chrysler of their industry.

America needs its business schools to remain the very best. It goes far beyond mere image and reputation; this is a global competitiveness crisis that needs to be addressed now.

It’s clearly time for America’s B-school deans to do some cramming and figure out a solution. Otherwise, we’ll all be left behind.

Apr 25

With friends like Jack Welch, who needs enemies?

Jack Welch never ceases to amaze. He’s arguably the greatest chief executive in American businessWelch
history. He’s earned every conceivable accolade. And he’s worshipped by businesspeople near and far.

So, why does he feel the need to publicly bash his hand-picked successor, Jeff Immelt?

Speaking to reporters after Immelt accepted full blame for GE’s mediocre first quarter, Welch said he would ‘…get a gun out and shoot’ Immelt if he missed his financial goals again.

Ouch. What’s that all about? Talk about second guessing someone. Talk about slamming your own golden boy.

Welch obviously comes from the Vince Lombardi ‘tough love school of management.’ And, even though he’s no longer running the show at GE, he’s still trying his best to motivate Immelt by fear.

Management by fear is totally bogus. I never liked reporting to a menacing CEO and found myself being less strategic, less creative and less productive as a result.

Retired CEOs should stay retired. Or, they should write columns for BusinessWeek. Or they should charge hundreds of thousands of dollars for one hour speeches. But, they should not publicly bash their hand-picked successors.  It’s bad form and reflects poorly on the image and reputation of all concerned.

Nov 27

Robb High’s half right

I enjoy Marketing Consultant Robb High’s regular missives on business development. Robb’s been in thePresentation
trenches, speaks from experience and draws upon the results of a recent CMO survey to prove his points.

That said, I think Robb’s most recent mailing misses the mark. High believes that most prospective clients have no interest whatsoever in learning about agencies and their capabilities in a first-round pitch. Instead, he says, they want to talk about themselves. Period.

He suggests preparing 30 or more questions and using the allotted time to have the prospect talk solely about themselves and their needs. Robb suggests not spending any time at all on the who, what, when, where or why of the agency. And, counsels High, if the prospect says, ‘…thanks…but you didn’t talk about your agency,’ he recommends the following response: ‘If the last hour of talking together doesn’t make you feel like we should go to the next step of the review, I can’t imagine what we could tell you about our agency that would change that.’

I think Robb’s half right. Countless statistics prove that prospects feel a meeting has gone well if they’ve spoken 50 percent or more of the time. So, having a prepared list of questions in your hip pocket is very smart. But, you don’t want it to be one way.

Continue reading